The tomb was empty when the women arrived and that emptiness must have been unsettling and painful. The silence must have increased their sense of loneliness because they couldn’t even visit Jesus grave. Emptiness is usually a sign of broken promises and shattered dreams but Jesus redefined emptiness because what the angel said in that emptiness is that Jesus kept his promise. “Do not be afraid, the angel said, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here (the tomb is empty). He has risen, just as he said”. While there are many messages that are proclaimed in the resurrection story from the forgiveness of sin to the victory of life over death and the hope of God’s kingdom here and now, perhaps one of the simplest messages of the empty tomb is that Jesus keeps his promises. Isn’t that what the angel is saying when he says, Jesus has risen, just as he said. While that line, just as he said, is often overshadowed by the powerful line, Jesus has risen, the message we are being told here is that Jesus keeps his word – and he did. Look at Matthew 20:17-19.
And this wasn’t the only time Jesus said he would rise from the dead. On at least 2 other occasions, in Matthew 16 and 17 Jesus also made this promise. So when Jesus is not in the tomb and the angel says, he has risen just as he said, what we are learning is that Jesus is indeed a man of his word. He fulfills his promises.
But it’s not just this promise that Jesus keeps, Jesus keeps all his promises, and we celebrate that this morning because Jesus made a lot of promises. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: Matthew 7:7-8. Jesus promised that when we turn to God in faith and ask – it will be given to us, and when we seek God we will find him and when we knock – when we ask God to enter into our lives – God will enter in. What Jesus is promising here is a relationship with God where we can come to Him openly and honestly and share who we are and what we need and when we do God will not reject us. That’s a promise that Jesus makes and fulfills and so when we ask and seek and knock - God will be there.
Jesus also promises us strength in times of weakness. Look at Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus promises that when we come to him in weakness, burdened down by the weight of our sin or simply weary from all the pain and sorrow we see and experience in life, when we come to him, we will find rest. This is an important promise for us to claim today because in so many ways we are weary and need rest – not more sleep – although right now that sounds good – but what we need isn’t sleep but spiritual rest and peace.
Many times it is the emptiness that we see in the world that makes us weary, empty wallets, empty tables, empty beds, empty mailboxes. We are weary from the financial stress and uncertainty we see around us. We are weary seeing friends struggle to find jobs. We are weary when we hear about another person who has to fight cancer, or another family breaking up. And we are weary when we see and hear about all the violence, anger and mean spirited discourse in our world. This darkness makes us weary and so we need to come to Jesus and trust his promise that when we come to him we will find rest for our souls because his yoke is easy and when we walk with him, his burden is light.
Some of the most powerful promises Jesus makes are found in John 14 because it’s in these words that Jesus promises to prepare a place for us in heaven (14:1-2). Jesus also promises to come back for us and take us to that heavenly home (14:3) Clearly the empty tomb tells us that Jesus has conquered the grave and so death has been defeated once and for all. There is an eternal life that awaits for us in heaven. That is a promise Jesus makes and fulfills. But in John Jesus also promises that until that day comes, he will not abandon us or leave us as orphans in this world because he will send us the Holy Spirit (14:25-27).
In that last promise there is not only the promise of God’s Holy Spirit to lead us, but there is the promise of peace – peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, and then I love how Jesus says, and I don’t give to you as the world gives.
Jesus isn’t making an empty promise here, Jesus doesn’t give to us one day and then change his mind and take it away the next. Jesus doesn’t say one thing and do another, he doesn’t change his mind – he is a man of his word and his strength and peace endures through all the difficult times we go through. The peace that Jesus gives is strong, stronger than we think it is, and it holds up when we need it and it lasts from one problem to the next. Jesus promises us his peace and today that promise is fulfilled
Also found in John 14 is perhaps the single most powerful promise Jesus makes and it’s the promise that often makes me feel uncomfortable because it is so daringly bold. Look at John 14:12-14. Jesus promises that if we have faith, we will do even great things than he did, and if we ask God for help – we will receive it. Can we trust that promise this morning? As the people of God, as the Faith Church community can we claim this promise and begin to allow the power of God to build us up and flow through us into a dark and empty world that needs the fullness of God.
The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t just mean that we are forgiven and it doesn’t just mean that the door to heaven is opened and that God is with us, it also means that the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is available to the people of God and so just as he said, we can do more in this world than Jesus ever did. We can change our families, our community and our world if we will have faith in the one who rose from the dead just as he said.
If Jesus keeps his promises, then why do we act as if his words are empty? Why don’t we step out in faith and trust Jesus to follow through on his word? Why didn’t Mary, Peter, James and John, trust Jesus to keep his promise? If Jesus said he would rise from the dead, then why didn’t the disciples camp out at the tomb and wait for that promise to be fulfilled? Part of it was due to fear. We forget how dangerous Jerusalem was for the followers of Jesus. They had just crucified Jesus so the religious leaders and Roman authority would not hesitate to crucify or at least flog, beat and imprison the followers of Jesus.
Part of it may have been their shame because of their failure. Each of the disciples knew how they failed Jesus when he needed them. Peter disowned Jesus 3 times but all the rest of the disciples ran away too. In fact even before things got dangerous, they couldn’t even stay awake and pray with Jesus when he needed their support. So instead of focusing on the promise of Jesus to rise from the dead, maybe all they could only focus on was their own empty words and broken promises.
Part of it may have been their depth of sorrow and pain. Their friend and leader had just been betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified. They watched as he was taken down from the cross and laid into the tomb and they knew the tomb was sealed. Maybe it was the reality of such a cruel and painful death that robbed their hearts of even thinking that Jesus could keep his promise and rise again.
Fear, failure, frustration and sorrow are all part of what held the disciples back from trusting Jesus to keep his word and living with boldness and those are the same things that hold us back. We are afraid of what others might think if we started living our lives as if the word of God was true. People might think we have really lost it if we start claiming God’s promises, and so we shrink back in fear. We also don’t claim God’s promises because of our own sin and failure. We may believe God will keep his promise to love and support someone who is faithful, but since I’m a failure, so God won’t help me. But doesn’t the story of Easter tell us the exact opposite? The disciples weren’t faithful, they weren’t there waiting for Jesus to rise from the grave and yet Jesus fulfilled his promise to them. If we wait until we are perfect until we trust in the promises of God, then we never will trust in them because we will never be perfect. We need to trust in God’s forgiveness and grace today and then ask God to fulfill his word in our hearts and lives to help us become more faithful and obedient.
It’s also hard for us to claim God’s promises when we see the reality of darkness and evil in the world around us. When so many things are beyond our control, and when the world seems like it is moving quickly away from God – it’s hard to claim the promise of Jesus that says we will be able to do more than he did. But maybe it is for just such a time as this that Jesus made this promise. Maybe it was for today, sunrise on Easter 2014, that Jesus made the promise, you will do even greater things because I am going to the Father. We need to look at the empty tomb and the risen savior and affirm in our own hearts and live that yes indeed, something is about to start because Jesus keeps his word.
Whatever promise we need fulfilled today, Jesus will do it because he is a man of his word.
If we ask – we will receive.
If we seek – we will find.
If we knock the door will be opened.
If we need forgiveness – it is offered.
If we need the love of a Father in heaven – it flows from Jesus.
If we are weary – we are given rest.
If we need strength it is given – freely.
And if we as a church need power to shine the light and love of God into a dark and needy world, then we have it because Jesus has fulfilled his promise to us and he gives us the power of God through the Holy Spirit.
So whatever promise we need fulfilled today, Jesus will do it, because he is a man of his word. Jesus redefines empty and through the emptiness of tomb Jesus brings us the fullness of life. And how do we know all this, because he has risen, just as he said.